There’s a certain grim obligation, whenever tackling Steve Mason’s music, to harp on about The Beta Band’s first three EPs, and the distinctly spotty work which has followed them in the intervening 13 years. It’s a lot harder, though, to try and explain exactly why that initial clutch of songs are so much better.

There’s a certain grim obligation, whenever tackling Steve Mason’s music, to harp on about The Beta Band’s first three EPs, and the distinctly spotty work which has followed them in the intervening 13 years. It’s a lot harder, though, to try and explain exactly why that initial clutch of songs are so much better.



For as Mason’s new solo LP, “Boys Outside”, proves, his songwriting style doesn’t vary a great deal from project to project. The musical trimmings may shift, but Mason’s soft, linear flow is a kind of dazed constant, immediately recognisable, unsullied by melodrama or climax or, indeed, much in the way of variety. If the word wasn’t used as a pejorative, Mason’s music could be easily described as monotonous.

I was thinking about all this earlier, playing “Boys Outside” for maybe the fifth time, and wondering what it is about this set that makes it more appealing to me than his other post-Beta Band projects. To be honest, I had to check Wikipedia to see what those projects actually were: Black Affair I remember, but there was a revival of King Biscuit Time, too, of which I only have the faintest memories.

Black Affair, if I have this straight, was a stab at electro, but I’m beginning to wonder whether Mason’s records are essentially unchanging, and it’s just a question of mood as to whether they make an impact on me or not. You could say this about all music, of course, but Mason’s music seems peculiarly liminal and open to this kind of interpretation.

“Boys Outside”, anyhow, was produced by Richard X, electropop mastermind of Annie and so on. With fitting perversity, however, there’s scant evidence of electro on these ten insidious songs. Instead, the musical backdrop is warm and unfussy, essentially a slightly more polished, less folksy, take on what the Beta Band did, on and off, so well.

“Am I Just A Man”, in fact, sounds like one of the very best Beta Band songs, though I’m not sure which one: again, there’s this sense of a continuum in Mason’s work, as if the same stuff has been flowing out of him, with barely peceptible shifts in quality, for nearly a decade and a half. Perhaps you could draw a distinction between some of his quirkier, wilfully eccentric ideas and what appears more naturalistic and emotionally nuanced.

If that’s the case, “Boys Outside” definitely falls into the latter category, as those who heard the appealingly fragile “All Come Down” single last year will probably testify. “Understand My Heart” and the title track are really strong, too: this, perhaps, is the simplest and most accessible way Mason has ever found to present his unravelling, idiosyncratic music. And there’s also a certain kinship with Hot Chip, possibly, in that Mason also sounds like an open-hearted indie boy unforcedly making a kind of pop.